The Patriots were able to start the season with an impressive victory over the Titans. While the offense was impressive, it felt as if it was still missing an element (Wes Welker) to make it truly special. The defense had a great day and it looks as if there is a lot to build on for the rest of the season. Let's look at how the whole team performed.
5. Receivers Catching On - The Patriots left the game with at least one question answered: Yes, Brandon Lloyd looks like he'll fit right in. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski looked excellent, although both seemed to contained by the offensive system to a certain extent. I believe the passing offense seemed stilted compared to years past purely because how effective the Patriots were able to run the ball. Tom Brady didn't have to put on a clinic because Stevan Ridley was gashing the defense for first down after first down.
But while Lloyd, Hernandez, and Gronkowski looked excellent, Wes Welker didn't really show up. The way he held his head on the ground after getting clunked in the head by a Brady ball makes me think Mike Reiss's speculation of a concussion is very possible. Welker lay on the ground in what appeared to be disappointment after the drop- but I don't think he is really one to put on a display after a mistake. If (more likely "when") Welker gets back to speed, the Patriots offense should go back to its old formidable level.
Behind those four, there are still plenty of questions, although it appears that Ridley is capable catching the ball out of the backfield. Let's see how Greg Salas looks after a week with the team.
4. Secondary Progress - The secondary was far from perfect, allowing four passing plays of 19 or more yards, one for a touchdown. However, the progress from was evident as no corner seemed to be clearly outmatched by the opposing receiver. Sure, the Patriots benefit by not having to face a true #1 (The Titans' Kenny Britt was out), but the Patriots secondary had to be happy with how they played. Beyond those four big plays, the Titans quarterbacks combined for just 157 yards through the air on 25 completions.
Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, and Ras-I Dowling all played extremely well, and while all three gave up a big play, they seemed to settle down quickly. Dowling seems to struggle with his length as every time he went for a jam, the receiver would push off and run a slant, gaining quick separation. They did a solid job of preventing yards after the catch and they should hopefully continue to improve as the year wears onward.
The safety position looked improved as well, with Tavon Wilson looking like the best safety on the field. Wilson rotated with Steve Gregory (who needs to improve his deep coverage) and they paired with Pat Chung to solidify the defensive backfield. Chung was solid in all facets of the game, while Wilson really shined while in coverage of the outlet players and did not yield a play for over 10 yards.
The entire secondary started the season off in the right way- let's hope they stay on the right track.
3. Locker's Athleticism - Locker's athleticism led to the touchdown to Nate Washington, there's no doubt about that. Beyond that, the Patriots did an excellent job of generating pressure without having to blitz, forcing Locker to stay within the pocket. Locker never really had the chance to scramble on a broken down play as the Patriots defensive front was smothering.
Not everything was sunshine and rainbows, however, as Locker led the Titans players in rushing with- oh, wait, really? 11 yards? Locker rushed for 11 yards and accounted for over half of the Titans rushing yards? Well then. Nevermind. The Patriots did an excellent job of containing an athletic quarterback like Locker, which should serve them well as they have to face Russell Wilson and the Tim Tebow-cat offense.
2. Rookie Ability - What a day. The Patriots were hoping for some big days from their draft picks and they certainly delivered. If not for Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo looking like their excellent selves, and Devin McCourty stepping up his performance, the Patriots trio of Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, and Tavon Wilson could have been the best defenders at each level of the field.
Jones was a fiend as a pass rusher, consistently pushing back the line and holding the point of attack. His non-stop motor was on full display and he threw in a forced fumble for good measure. Hightower, apart from returning said fumble for a touchdown, was a menace and might have actually been better than Mayo. Hightower played like a savvy veteran, generating pressure on blitzes, while executing above and beyond expectations in run defense and in pass coverage. Wilson, covered a little bit before, became the fifth Patriot rookie to register an interception in Week 1 of their rookie year.
To me, it seemed as if all three were ready for the NFL and that all three could handle the heat.
1. Offensive Blocking - The line was average and, for many, that was good enough to at least match (if not exceed) expectations. Nate Solder, apart from the sack and bloody nose, did a fairly good job of containing the pass rush while adjusting to the left tackle position. Logan Mankins looked like a player still in need of a little more time to recover from knee surgery, but he was far from exposed as he provided quality protection at left guard. Ryan Wendell made the start at center and looked like the best center the team has seen in a while- hopefully he can stay healthy and stick around. Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon split time at right tackle and both played average- which is a good sign as Vollmer looks to get back on the field and is a huge improvement over the preseason for Cannon.
Dan Connolly, on the other hand, didn't look too great. He was unable to get any push from the guard spot while run blocking, and he consistently did not have quick enough feet to establish a pocket perimeter. Unfortunately, he was nicked up with an injury at the end of the game, but he should be able to return next week. He has to improve if the line is to take the next step forward, or else Donald Thomas or even Cannon could see extended time at right guard.
The line showed a lot of improvement seeing how it was the first real time they've played together. There is still plenty of room to grow and once Mankins gets fully healthy and Connolly/right guard takes it to the next level, the offense should see new heights.
Mention - CJ?K: Yeah, I don't think he ever actually showed up.
I think the Patriots showed a lot of promise after week 1. After another good week of practice and healing, hopefully they can issue a warning sign to the league via a solid outing against the Arizona Cardinals.